Hillsdale, Mich. Misery loves company, they say, but maybe not if the company is Comcast. Yes, I have returned to a subject of previous kvetching, though this time I am commiserating the difficulties that my favorite Chestnut Hill columnist recently experienced his hardware and the people who service it. Hugh Gilmore, a book dealer and mystery writer experienced three days without internet service, which included three days of organizational dysfunction:

My Internet connection went down last week after my formerly trustworthy RCA modem went renegade on me. Not all at once – he was much sneakier than that. Over a span of two weeks, he slowed a bit more each day. Each time I tapped a command button, the computer’s progress spinner whirled a few more times than usual before it brought up the page I wanted. Then it would stall, continue, then stall again.

I called Comcast. I tapped through their voice protocols: verified the last four digits of my phone number; clicked that I had a service problem; distinguished that my problem was with my high-speed Internet connection. The auto-voice suggested disconnecting the power source and reconnecting after 30 seconds.

Did that. No improvement. Called again. “Would you like us to send a ‘refresh’” signal.” Yes, I clicked. No improvement though. Tried this process several more times. No go. Called and clicked option 4 for a “specialized account representative” (their confusing way of saying “service technician”). A young man answered in a courteous, knowledgeable manner.

After several minutes of discussion, he declared my modem dead. My choices: Take its carcass to 4400 Wayne Ave. by 6 p.m., request that a service technician come to my home (this was a Tuesday, earliest appointment would be next Monday); or have it mailed to me overnight. Though the replacement modem is free, overnight shipping via UPS would cost $29.95.

At first I balked at the price. But it was 5:15 p.m., and I didn’t think I could drive to the Comcast customer service depot by 6. Waiting till Monday for home service was out of the question. I earn my living via the Internet – between my writing and my used book business. Very well, I’d pay the shipping fee. It would arrive tomorrow. I’d take a night off the Internet. Read a book. Watch some telly. Can’t be too hard, right? . . .

I felt cut off from the flow, but what the heck, 24 hours is not critical. The following day we waited for the UPS man in brown to show up. At 3:30 he pulled up and came up to the house carrying a huge (14 x 20 x 23 inch !) cardboard box. “Sounds empty,” he said to my wife, shaking it.

And it was, I discovered when I returned home at 5:30 p.m. The round of calls to Comcast started over. Again, I talked to another polite, sympathetic young man. He was quite apologetic. Too late to drive to 4400 Wayne Ave. by 6. Please send it by overnight mail (again). Of course, he agreed, there should be no additional charge.

Another day without Internet. I wanted to call for a haircut appointment, but forgot my barber’s number. Normally I’d look for it on the Internet at the shop’s website. I found an old telephone directory in a closet, since we rarely use them anymore. (For one thing, the fonts now are incredibly small. I must strain to read them in a strong light.) One more way in which I’ve become Internet dependent.

On Thursday the package did not arrive. Another round of calls with Comcast. According to their records, “Your Next-Day package is scheduled to ship two days from now.” I called the UPS tracking number anyway. Their automated voice told me that they had not received the item from the shipper yet. . . . First thing Friday morning I drove to the Comcast center, a 20-minute drive from Chestnut Hill. After an interminable two-minute wait, I walked out with a new modem, given to me through one of those revolving two-inch-thick, bullet-proof revolving glass portals. At home, I plugged the three cables in. Within a minute we were all back in the spaceship cruising through the cosmos, heading toward eternity, our fingers nimbly tapping out our destinies.

The UPS truck arrived at dinner time Friday with another modem. I’m tempted to hold it hostage for a while – until my $29.95 speedy overnight delivery charges are refunded.

The lesson, I suppose, is that you can’t really complain about the loss of human scale from a company whose very purpose is to transcend place and embodiment. If I followed Wendell Berry’s list for using technology, I wouldn’t be communicating with FroPos at our nifty website. But if the NASA capsule can deposit a man on the moon, can’t the UPS box from Comcast deliver a modem?

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Darryl Hart
D. G. Hart is a visiting professor of history at Hillsdale College. After completing his Ph.D. at Johns Hopkins University, he taught at Wheaton College and Westminster Seminary before directing academic programs at the Intercollegiate Studies Institute. He is the author of several books, including A Secular Faith: Why Christianity Favors the Separation of Church and State (Ivan R. Dee); The University Gets Religion: Religious Studies and American Higher Education (Johns Hopkins University Press); and From Billy Graham to Sarah Palin: Evangelical Protestants and American Conservatism (Eerdmans).


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